Yosemite NP – Hiking Mist trail to Vernal Falls and Nevada Fall


What? : This is probably one of the best hikes in Yosemite, you will start your hike at the valley east south section and hike up the year-round flowing Merced River, from the misty base of Vernal Falls (317ft tall) you will hike up to the top of Nevada Fall (594ft tall). On your way back you will hike section of the John Muir Trail. If you are short in time or afraid that the longer loop is too much for you, you can do shorter sections of this trail.

More Yosemite Related Blogs:


Where? : The trailhead is located near Happy Isles shuttle station (#16), cross the bridge to the other side of the Merced River and you will see Mist Trail and John Muir Trailhead on your right.

Google Map Link

Parking: For the one coming with cars, the nearest parking lot is Yosemite Valley Trailhead Parking (will add you overall of 1 mile to your hike distance). This parking lost is getting full very early in the morning, you can also park at large Curry Village Parking Lots (will add you overall of 1.5 mile to your hike distance).

Google Map Link


When? : The best times to visit this trail are the month of spring and early summer when the snow is melting, and river flow is at it peak. This river is flowing year-round so you will always see the waterfalls.


Due note 1: This trail is one of the most traveled in Yosemite National Park.


Due note 1: The longer hike all the way to the top of Nevada Fall is amazing hike, but I do not I recommend it for people that are short on time and want to visit Yosemite in one day visit, you may hike only to the bridge and have time to explore other things in the valley.


Due note 2: If you only have time for one long day hike while in Yosemite the Mist Trail is the hike for you, you can also hike shorter sections of this hike to fit your schedule and hiking abilities.


Dune Note 3: Hiking the full 7-miles loop with 2000 ft of elevation gain is a strenuous, 5-6 hours hike and my not fit everybody. Hiking to the base of  Vernal Falls is a an option that may fit more people.


Due note 4: Bring enough water with you for the hike, drinking water is available at the shuttle stop near the trailhead and near the wooden bridge. There are Restrooms at several locations along this hike (wooden bridge, Vernal Fall the top of the climb near Nevada Falls).


My thoughts: This is probably the best half day hike you can do in Yosemite. I did this hike many times, alone, with friends and family and with small kids and we always enjoy it.

I hiked here 2 times at winter after snowstorm when the trail was covered with ice and deep snow, it was unique experience.


The Hike:

This is my all-time preferred hike in the park.

It combines, canyon walk, seeing 2 large waterer falls, grand vista view from the top of Nevada falls as well as good half day hiking exercise.

This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, do not expect to be the only one her. It is busy trail even from early morning (for people that are hiking to Half Dome), I found that late afternoon it has fewer other hikers.


You have 3 options to hike here so can be flexible with your planned time and hike difficulties you want to do.

  • Vernal Fall Footbridge: 1.6 miles round trip, 400 ft elevation gain, Moderate, 1-1.5 hours
  • Top of Vernal Fall: 2.4 miles round trip (via Mist Trail), 1000 ft elevation gain, Strenuous, 3 hours.
  • Top of Nevada Fall: 7 miles loop trail (via Mist and John Muir Trails), 2000 ft elevation gain, Strenuous, 5-6 hours.

Note: To all the above hikes you need to add 1 mile to the nearest parking lot, if you are using the valley shuttle than the bus stop is located near the trailhead.


Note: From the parking lots there is a trail parallel to the road that will lead you to the trailhead.


Vernal Fall Footbridge:

You will start your hike at Happy Isles shuttle station, cross the road bridge to the other side of the Merced River and turn right into the trail.

This section of the hike is on paved trail.

The trail starts moderately in the canyon floor and soon after the large rock boulders section the trail leaves the river level and start to climb. Some sections can be steep grade, make stops to recover your breath.

Most of the trail is within the forest and is protected from the sun but there are few openings where you can enjoy the canyon and the river view below.

After 0.8 miles you will reach the large wooden bridge that is crossing the Merced River.

From the wooden bridge you will see the cascade of the Merced River flowing in the canyon below and you can also catch a glimpse of Vernal Falls top section up the canyon.

This is your first “decision point”, you can hike back to your starting point or keep hiking up the trail.



Vernal Fall:

Even if you do not want to climb tall the way o the top of Vernal Falls, I highly recommend keep hiking for another 0.4 mile (not a steep climb) to the base of Vernal Falls, you do not need to climb to it top but enjoy it from below.

At the end of this trail section a steep granite stairway of over 600 steps will take you around the rock and you will see the waterfall.


This section of the trail at the base of Vernal Falls gave this trail its name “Mist Trail”, here the wide river opening, and the narrow canyon below the waterfall creates a mist rain.

Plan to get wet here, especially during spring and early summer when the river water level is high. Some hikers bring with them light raincoat but most just get wet and dry themselves at the top of the waterfall. It is fun to get wet here and the splashes of the mist will cool you in a hot summer day.

There are many viewing points along this steep climb section to enjoy the view and the mist of this impressive waterfall.


Note: Even at summer if you are coming in the morning this trail section is in the shadows of the mountains and it can be cold when you are getting wet.


Note: During late summer & fall, when the water level is not high, and the Vernal waterfall is not raging, you can walk over the boulders down to the base of the waterfall. Be careful not to fall.


If you hiked up to this section, you can “save” the steep stairs section leading to the top of the Vernal waterfall and from here hike back down (1.2 mile to the hike starting point).

If you have time, I do recommend hiking up to the waterfall level, you can take as many rests stops as you want/need along the short way up.


From the section below the waterfall the trail climbs steeply on rock steps and just before the last section it turns to the right and following a narrow path in the cliff.

This short narrow section, protected by metal rails can be packed with people where hikers that are climbing up and hikers going down need to pass each other.

Once you cross this short section you will arrive at the opening above the Vernal waterfall.

Here you can rest, get dry and enjoy the sun.

Walk to the end of the rock section and watch the waterfall from the top down, impressive to see how to river fall over the cliff.


Note: Do not cross the rails!

Note: Swimming in the pools here is not allowed and is very dangerous.


After enjoying the view and resting in the open area or in the shaded forest near the river Emerald Pool section you need to decide what to do:

·       You can hike back the same way you came up

·       You can hike back through a loop trail that connect to the John Muir Trail

·       You can climb up all the way to the top of Nevada falls.



Hike back down through a loop trail:

There is an option not to hike back the exact same way you went up. This is a longer way with some additional climb, but I do recommend taking it because it provides high viewpoints on Nevada falls, the Merced canyon and the “back” of Half Dome.


From the head of Vernal waterfall keep hiking for a short distance up the trail and soon you will see a trail junction (before reaching the bridge). Take right here and climb 0.8 miles up to Clark Point junction with John Muir Trail.

Look back and you will enjoy the panorama view of the canyon, Nevada waterfall, and the 3 mountains: Half Dome, Mt Broderick, and Liberty Cap towering above the canyon.

From this trail junction hike down on John Muir Trail, after 1.1 miles of descending sharply into the canyon in a series of switchbacks and you will reach Mist trail, just before the wooden bridge.

From here keep hiking all the way down to the trailhead.



From Vernal Falls climb up to Nevada falls:

From the head of Vernal waterfall keep hiking for a short distance up the trail and soon you will see a trail junction, keep hiking left and you will reach a wooden bridge.

Enjoy the raging Merced River passing through this narrow section into the waterfall.

Keep hiking up and after 0.2 miles you will reach an open in the woods just right of the trail.

Walk to this opening, from here you can see the Nevada falls.


From this point the trail turn left and start a steep climbing section.

This is a 0.6-mile steep section where the trail climbs the cliff on the left side of Nevada Falls. At some point a series of stone staircase find its way on the cliffside following a series of switchbacks all the way into a side narrow creek and to the upper level.

This section is the most difficult section of our hike.

At the top of the climb, you will reach a trail junction, here you can also find restrooms.

From here, our trail turns to the right, leading to the top of Nevada Falls, if you turn left on John Muir Trail you will hike up into Little Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Cloud Rest, and deep into the Yosemite wilderness area.


After turning right to Nevada Falls you will soon reach the waterfall area, cross the bridge to the other side and enjoy the view.

Be careful not to get too close to the cliff there is no protection rails here.

Do not swim in the river.


There is a small over-the-top observation platform on the right (north) side of the waterfall. Before crossing the bridge walk on the rock to your right and finds the path that is leading to the lower area, here there are metal rails that protect from falling, be careful.


After enjoying the view from the top of Nevada Falls you can hike down the same way you went up or you can choose to take the alternate route down along the John Muir Trail. I highly recommend taking this option.

From this trail you will see a great views of Nevada Falls and Half Dome, Mt Broderick, and Liberty Cap towering from above.


John Muir Trail starts at the flat section, going into the wood, soon you will arrive to the cliff hanging section where the trail is cutting itself into the cliff rock.

At this short section there is small waterfall dripping all over the trail. This is the reason why this section of the trail gets close during winter, ice cover everything.

From this open section you have a side view of the Nevada waterfall and the towering mountains above.

After hiking 0.4 miles from the Nevada waterfall, you will reach a trail junction, keep hiking down (right) on John Muir Trail. The trail heading left and up, called Panorama Trail and it can lead to lllilouette Creek and waterfall and from there up to Glacier Point.

After one mile down on John Muir Trail, you will reach Clark Point junction. Here you need to turn left, keep walking down on John Muir Trail (turning right here will take you to the top of Vernal waterfall). This point is another viewpoint on the landscape.


Additional 1.1 miles of descending sharply into the canyon in a series of switchbacks and you will reach Mist trail, just before the wooden bridge.

From here keep hiking all the way down to the trailhead.



Winter Hiking:

If you want to visit here during the winter this is possible, but some sections of the trails are close, and you will need to use the winter rout.


I did this hike twice when it was very called, icy and the trail was covered in deep snow, it was challenging and fun and the snow-covered landscape was amazing.


When it is ice and snowy it is highly recommended to walk with simple shoes crampon (walking spikes for shoes) that will help you preventing slipping on the ice, walking sticks can also help your stabilization.

I do not think that you need to have large snowshoes, assume that other hikers before you already paved the way in the fresh snow after the snowstorm. If you are the first hiker on the trail after a snowstorm you probably need them.


Those restrictions and trail limitations are not only in effective when it is snowing, this is because of the mist, rain, and waterfalls as well as cliff sections the trail can be completely covered with slippery ice when it is cold during night and early morning.

Do not take the restrictions or hiking conditions lightly, follow the rules and stay safe.

Such icy conditions are not only for the higher elevation section of the trail but can also happened at the lower first steep section of the trail leading to the wooden bridge.


To reach the top of Vernal Fall:

After the wooden bridge hike, the John Muir Trail to Clark Point, this 1-mile section can be covered with a deep snow, hopefully others already open the middle of the trail, paving the way in the deep snow. At Clark Point enjoy the view, here the trail forks out of John Muir Trail.

The right fork (John Muir Trail) will be gated shut, so follow the left fork downhill to reach the Mist Trail junction just a few minutes upstream of Vernal Fall. A left turn here brings you to the top of Vernal Fall, while a right turn follows the Mist Trail crossing a wooden trail all the way uphill to Nevada Fall.

For more up to date information visit this page:







Additional Pictures from this Trail: